Norwescon: Weekend in a blur

Norwescon: Noise, crowds, friends, parties, the masquerade, panels, a game show, business conversations, general madness.

At this point, what I remember in detail is sharing quality time with my roommate, conversations about the current Sekrit Project, about the future Sekrit Project, conversations about crowd anxiety and job PTSD, the history of fan fiction, epic fantasy, weddings and future travel (as in, where I'm going, not where technology is going), and more. I think the main issue is that I was very, very tightly scheduled on Saturday which, in the wake of two pretty stressful weeks at work, exacerbated every anxiety, every stressor in the arsenal. So while it was a good weekend, it tripped a number of switches that I was unprepared for. I did a lot of dodging of crowds and a lot of single-minded walking from hither to yon with limited social interaction.

I didn't like this feeling. Conventions are usually a time for visiting with friends I don't often see, for having the occasional business conversation, and for indulging the geek side of my personal Force. The weekend flew by, feeling like it was over before it began. I had to sort of survey the art show rather than strolling through to enjoy it; I made sure I saw art posted by friends and acquaintances, tried to see stuff by artists with whom I was unfamiliar, but it was a pretty quick jaunt. I spent minimal time in the dealer's room and purchased nothing. (One book dealer was out of the one book I was actually interested in, a collection of Marge Piercy short stories.)

I did have quality time with some key folks, including Peggy Rae Sapienza, in from the East Coast, flogging the DC in 2017 WorldCon bid (I presupported, but I'm going to have to presupport Helsinki in 2017, too, because -- HELSINKI!). I also got to visit with calendula_witch, markferrari, the_monkey_king, joycemocha, mistymarshall (in from Europe!), Janet Freeman-Daily, Craig English, and to chat with Clint Boomer, Jeff Grubb, Diana Pharaoh Francis, and a number of writers I'm currently working with on the Sekrit Project.

I did get to a couple of panels (one on giving good alien, and one on putting gods into fantasy fiction). I attended the Masquerade and participated in the half-time show, a game show called Just a Minute; I was buttonholed later in the weekend by someone who said they enjoyed my performance--gratifying, unexpected. Though I came in second by one single point, I walked away with the prize because the winner, one davidlevine, wouldn't be around to use it. The prize was a membership to Crypticon, a horror-media convention over Memorial Day weekend. I may go for a day.

And my panel conversations were good ones. Putting the Epic in Epic Fantasy went very well, I thought, with Bradley Beaulieu as the moderator asking smart and specific questions. And the panel about the history of fan fiction was fun. I was able to share copies of zines from the 1980s, as did another panelist (who brought many more, some of which I own). It was fun to see kids who hadn't been born yet paging through my artifacts. And I learned about some current fanfic resources that I was previously unaware of.

I didn't get a single glimpse of the weekend's guest of honor, Michael Moorcock, which was rather disappointing. He did some signings and some panels, all of which I just missed.

So while it was a good weekend in many ways, it was something of a mixed bag. Next year's GOHs are Boris Vallejo and George R. R. Martin. It will be a madhouse and I'm already trying to decide if I'm going to go or if I'm going to skip, given the trouble I had with the crowds this year. We'll see.
MrD is still in the middle of his two-and-a-half-week school break right now, so it's mostly family time over here, with bits of sneak-writing slotted in wherever/whenever I can manage them. Mostly, we've been doing a lot of reading (MrD and I are in the middle of re-reading Mr. Popper's Penguins right now), visiting castles, playing in the park, and so on.

Oh, and re-watching Frozen, obviously! Because that obsession continues, unchecked. ;)

I was feeling really guilty about how little writing I've managed to get done during MrD's school break...until I actually added up what I've written in all my snatched sneak-writing sessions over the last week: 1797 words of "Courting Magic" (my Kat novella) and 964 words on my Family Magic rewrite. So actually, for a week without any designated writing sessions or childcare, I've been doing pretty well - the great bonus of having two projects I'm excited about and eager to get back to at any opportunity.

(That was NOT how I'd been feeling about the Family Magic rewrite for the past several months of procrastination and stuck-ness...but then this week a new opening and angle finally hit me, and I was off! Not at great speed, obviously, but I'm finally truly excited about this rewrite, and if I weren't already halfway through the Kat novella, I'd be working full-throttle on FM.)

This week, I'm adding a third project to the mix: a new freelance audition for a really fun project. Please wish me luck! I'm trying to put together a soundtrack of quirky-cool music for it. The first two albums I put on the soundtrack were David Byrne's Grown Backwards and Cake's Comfort Eagle. Which songs or albums would you guys suggest adding to it?

And: I finally, FINALLY started watching Star Trek: Voyager, 20+ years late! I so wish I'd seen it when it was first on, but even now, in my late 30s, it still feels shockingly revolutionary to see a woman starship captain, calm, authoritative, and in charge of 140+ people, making smart decisions and issuing commands in both action and strategy scenes. I was trying to think of any other science fiction show where I'd seen a woman captain in command of that many people...and I couldn't.

I've seen female captains of very small ships, from time to time, and in the "Waters of Mars" episode of Doctor Who, there's a (great) woman captain who's in charge of a medium-sized crew...but that's it, as far as I can remember. (Patrick tells me there was also a woman captain of a battlestar in Battlestar Galactica, but I haven't seen those episodes of BG yet!) Can you guys think of any other examples?

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting over here fantasizing about turning into Captain Janeway when I grow up... ;)


So Very Bad

It's the time of year again - when I torture myself reading bad Hugo-nominated fiction so you don't have to. Will I want to claw my eyes out? Probably. Will I long for the days when Resnick was everpresent on the ballot? Ha, no way. I'll even make some alternate recommendations.

First up is the Gary Stu-tastic “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Theodore Beale. It reads like a Terry Brooks rehash (which is to say a second order Tolkien rehash) with an even thinner and more derivative world. Oh, and it opens with a weather report.

The cold autumn day was slowly drawing to a close. The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark.

So yeah, that would be a comma splice right there in the second sentence. I guess this is one of those copyediting optional sorts of books. Excuse me while I vomit over the whispering promise of incipient shit writing.

Moving on, the story proper opens when generic monk #1 is standing guard and along comes the most powerful sorcerer elf in the entire world - let's call him Bealey. Anyway, Bealey is looking for the only thing more powerful than him. (Hint: it's God.)

Bealey meets the abbot of the frat house monastery - let's call him Theodoricus in honor of all the bad Latin. Theodoricus and Bealey stay up all night talking philosophy like college freshman. Since the story is pretty much devoid of these masterful philosophical discussions, I can only assume it went a little bit like this:

Pretty soon they are BFFs, Bealey decides he wants to illuminate the Bible, and along comes a plot coupon in the form of a demon who really wants Bealey to go back to Rivendell because reasons.

Eventually, as frat bros do, they run out of wine and Bealey goes on a packie run (liquor run for those of you not from New England). Everyone gets killed by the plot coupon while he's away, including Theodoricus which makes Bealey cry and ask why God is such an ass to let his BFF die.

Jump forward three centuries, and we find out all those late night drunken ramblings are super important philosophical texts. (Of course they are.) Also, Bealey has immortalized Theodoricus's visage in a letter of his illuminated bible, thereby revealing that important thought we all learned from My Little Pony: friendship is magic.[1] In your face, God.

Ok, seriously, the book is poorly copyedited, the prose strives for poetic and achieves clunky, the worldbuilding is derivative and thin, the characters speak with interchangeable voices, the philosophy discussions are the sort that earnest college freshmen find deep (but in retrospect realize they were not), and the plot barely exists. It's an embarrassment this is on the Hugo ballot, and not just because Beale is a sexist, misogynistic ass.

So rather than reading this, try The Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters by Henry Lien. There's a lot to love about this story - the rich worldbuilding (skating parkour martial arts!) that makes me hope Lien will set a novel in this world, the spoiled teen protagonist Suki who is proud that she learns absolutely nothing while at the Pearl Colony, her nemesis who seems utterly indifferent to Suki (but manages to poke holes in Suki's complaints and tricks her into promising to stop talking.) It's like a breath of fresh air after reading Beale's dreck.

Ladybusiness-We don't need no stinking ladies!
Sex - It's a story about frat bros monks, so what do you think?
Violence - an off-screen mass murder so Bealey can ask the age-old "Are you there God, it's me, Margaret?" question about his period. Oh wait, that's not it. It's the "Why did you let them die, God?" speech.

[1] Yes, this is a journey of self-discovery where a sorcerer elf becomes a broney.

Writing Process Blog Hop

My fabulous friend and critique partner Brandi Barnett invited me to join her in blogging about the Writing Process. Brandi is the author of YA novel Glamour, and she blogs about the magic of everyday life at Thank you, Brandi, for inviting me to join the fun!

Now to the questions . . .

What are you working on?
I just finished a middle grade contemporary ghost story. Now I'm in the planning stages for a couple of Young Adult novels--both mysteries, one contemporary and the other historical. Each has its own little bit of metaphysical/paranormal flair, of course.

How does your work differ from other of its genre?
This is a tough one, so I'll focus on process rather than content. I don't know how other writers of ghostly mysteries get their ideas, but with me it almost always starts with place rather than character or plot. When I discover an out-of-the-ordinary setting, I start to wonder what sort of people might have inhabited it, and what kind of joys and trials they might have experienced. The story takes off from there.

Why do you write what you do?
Simply put, I try to write the kind of books I want to read. I love mysteries and historicals. I love Gothic settings. I can't get enough of characters who are haunted in some way -- by an actual ghost, by the past, by a loss, or perhaps by some trespass they've committed. I collect favorite (& sometimes random) story elements like a magpie, with the goal of mixing them up into something new. Something me.

How does your writing process work?
I'm a planner. I outline. I fill in character questionnaires. I create index cards for each scene and arrange them on a bulletin board. I love any sort of graphic organizer for planning OR revising a story. It's the drafting that nearly kills me -- seriously, sometimes it's about as painful and ugly as ripping the guts from my body. (Well, not quite, but you know what I mean!) Revision isn't that much easier, but for me it's more fun, partly because the graphic organizers come back into play. I like to chart story elements to identify gaps and redundancies. For instance, when I'd completed a solid draft of my middle grade novel, Steve and I charted each chapter on a huge dry-erase board. So fun!

We spent three full days on this. My husband is a prince, I tell you. (Also, it was OU's semester break.)

Next Monday, April 28th (or in Valerie's case, a little earlier than that), three friends will join the blog hop and give you the deets on their writing process. Do pay them a visit!

Jerry Bennett is an illustrator and pre-published graphic novelist hard at work on his 'underwater western'.
Jerry blogs at Tumblr, and you also can follow him on Facebook.

Mari Farthing is a freelance editor and writer in the OKC area who blogs about family, music, pop culture and just about everything else you could think of at Mari, quite contrary.

Valerie Lawson is a young adult contemporary author who also dabbles in middle grade mysteries. She lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, with her husband and two children who suffer through her delusions of grandeur and bouts of madness with grace. Follow her writing journey at Valerie R Lawson: Barbies on Fire.

Have a great week, everyone!


No accounting for tastes...

It's no secret that I love Pacific Rim with a white-hot passion. I'm aware that the physics in this movie is...lacking in accuracy, and there are some largish plot holes. Yet I could watch it over and over and over.


At the same time, I find Game of Thrones un-watchable. I don't do bleak. I watch TV/Movies to escape, to have fun, not to be sickened, saddened, and depressed.

But that's the way the story-telling world works. Different people are out there searching for different things. Some people like horror. Some like comedy. Some are after Deep Meaning (I'm not, which suggests that I'm a rather shallow person.)

All that said, I've tried watching several series that my friends have recommended, only to have them fall flat for me.

Person of Interest is one of those. I think the problem for me is the weird combination of Jim Caviezel (whom I like in almost everything else) and the guy who plays an adult Brick Heck (also known as Mr. Finch.) For me it's just not working, and although we've purchased the first season, I probably won't buy the second.

I also struggle with Battlestar Galactica. We've seen about half of season one, and I just don't care if most of those people are just shot out of the sky. The -only- character I care about at this point is Helo, which is pretty sad. The 'bleak' of that show really drags it down for me. (I was a rabid watcher of the original series in Jr. High, but it wasn't nearly so depressing.)

Most of the series I might actually watch (Castle, Elementary, Bletchley Circle) are on past my bed-time, and I'm a big believer in getting my sleep on a regular schedule. And with Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human on hiatus, there's now nothing for me to watch except BBT and Father Brown Mysteries.

It's a puzzlement...I guess I should just go write instead.
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When Cynthia graciously invited me to write a guest post for her blog, she asked if there was a particular writing craft item on my mind. Indeed, there is. And its color is blue.

Blue screen, that is. The kind they use in movie making when they film actors against a blank blue screen and then Cg in the background.

During a blue-screen shoot, the cameras capture the characters delivering their dialogue and action, but they don’t capture the setting. There is none. It’s just blue nothingness.

The scene doesn’t come fully alive until the special effects people go in and add the setting. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something I call “bluescreening” in young adult manuscripts.

I’ve been editing teen/tween manuscripts for more than fifteen years, acting as a bridge between writers and their readers, doing my best to ensure that the story the writer wants to tell is the story that reaches her readers.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an increasing dearth of setting in the manuscripts crossing my desk. Writers are focusing on voice and plot and character arcs, and on fresh, marketable hooks—and rightly so, as these are all integral storytelling elements.

But our poor little friend, Setting . . . she’s barely there. Such a powerful storytelling tool, yet so overlooked of late. Why? What’s happened? Where did setting go?

These days writers are working their tails off to satisfy the increasingly strong call for action and faster-paced plots, with an accompanying call for characters who can shoulder that.

In the process, setting—the quiet workhorse of stories—is being short-changed. The characters are dropped in a location—a room, a park, wherever—and then it’s “Onward, ho!” to the action and the dialogue.

Where’s the sense of place? Where’s the feeling that this scene could happen nowhere else but here? Where’s the full reading experience?

Too often, I feel like I’m watching a movie for which the special affects crew has forgotten to generate the background, leaving the characters walking and talking in front of that vast blue nothingness.

That’d be a pretty big boo-boo in a feature film, wouldn’t it? So, too, in a novel.

Think about the YA/middle grade novels we love.

Without setting, we wouldn’t have Beetle’s warm, moiling dung heap sheltering us from the frosty night in Karen Cushman’s Newbery Medal-winning The Midwife’s Apprentice (Clarion, 1995).

We wouldn’t have the terrifying frozen beauty of The North in Philip Pullman’s bestseller The Golden Compass (Knopf, 2006).

We wouldn’t have Kathi Appelt’s National Book Award Finalist The Underneath at all (Atheneum, 2008).

We need setting in our stories. We need the richness that makes up setting, the sensual engagement that can only come from hearing the crunch of frosty grass under the protagonist’s bare feet, or feeling the sudden whispery kiss of a spider’s web dangling from the eaves. We’d just have a girl walking across a lawn and a creepy old house. Where’s the joy in that?

The lovely thing is, lack of setting is an easy boo-boo to fix. And when you bang that nail into place, the overall effect on the manuscript is substantial.

If you write teen/tween novels, take a look at your current work-in-progress. Is it all action and dialogue? Or have you given us enough sensory detail to fill out the space around the characters?

I’m not saying go all Henry James on your audience. Heavens, no! Few can stomach such long-winded descriptions of setting. Certainly not your average teen reader.

Instead of describing or simply naming your setting, show your character interacting with elements of it, manipulating those elements or reacting to them. Give us the sounds and smells and textures and temperatures and sensations that distinguish that particular place by having your character hearing them, smelling them, and feeling them.

Along the way, you will enrich your entire story because:

* setting influences and illuminates characterization

Imagine one character finding solace in the songs of mockingbirds on a flower-covered (and floral-scented) mountaintop, while his friend hunkers under a freeway overpass and loses himself in the sounds of the traffic, the vibrations of the ground, and the fumes of a world too busy to notice him.

* setting figures directly into plot

A dingy, mud-caked window screen blocks a character’s view of a fight outside. He faces a choice: ignore the fight, or leave the safety of his house to watch it—or to stop it.

* setting influences characters’ word choice

Trip-slipping on the gritty asphalt crumbs of a dilapidated road blurred by heat waves…. Tromping through biting snowdrifts…. Both can put foul words into the mouths of saints!

* setting affects pacing and tension

Compare the discomfort of feeling the flesh of strangers’ arms, shoulders, even cheeks, as a character shoves through a busy train station with the caress of a cool breeze on the character’s cheek as he wiggles his toes into the powdery sand of an empty beach.

* setting provides subtext and ambiance

Catholic school vs. public school, anyone? Oh, the sensory details that distinguish each of those settings.

Above all, characters need a sense of place to know how to behave. Don’t just give them somewhere to be; show how that particular place influences their mood and actions. You chose that setting for a reason, mine it so that readers can feel that sense of place for themselves.

For your audience, a rich setting is the difference between watching characters and being there with them. For you, it means more meaningful and satisfying scenes. Improving your use of setting is a win-win deal—and that’s certainly nothing to feel blue about.

Cyn & Deborah with her sons
Cynsational Notes

This post was originally published in June 2010. Past posts will be sprinkled into the schedule for the duration of Cyn's revision deadline.

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me (2007) and Big Mouth (2008)(both Delacorte/Random House) as well as Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (Wiley), Letters to Santa (available via the USPS) and Cyber World, Meltdown and Robotic World (Rubicon's REMIX series).

She edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Books for ten years before leaving to write books full-time.

Deborah lives with her husband and triplet sons in San Diego, California, where she also runs her writers’ advice website and freelance edits fiction and nonfiction for both published authors and writers seeking their first book deals.

Fifteen minutes of catgrubs

(not fame)

In other diminutive feline news, Ten had a litter of five on Monday; sadly, only one remains (first-time queen, and they were all very, very small - to the point where, at a week old, the survivor is only almost as big as the catgubs were when they were born)

My subconscious has been throwing surreal work situations at me: sheltering in the convention center, all the members of our outward-facing service department were clad in variegated costume Snuggies. WHAT.

My tweets


"I don't even give a care"


Tea and Daniel and Stacy C. came over and packed a ton of book boxes, because they are marvelous people, and now the "how will we pack everything?!" stress is gone because we can clearly pack everything that's left with minimal trouble, but instead there's all the stress of being surrounded by boxes and chaos and tiny ants (we have a bonus! infestation thanks to a hole in the baseboard that we don't have time to patch). I hate it all so much.

This apartment was never really home, not like our place in Inwood was. We always knew it would be temporary, so we overlooked or put up with a lot of things, and now all the cumulative impatience and dissatisfaction is crushing. The physical disarray of moving is crushing. The anxiety--what's going to break? what will we lose? how far will we fall behind our schedule? how much is this all costing us?--is crushing. We're all struggling a lot. I suppose later on I'll be able to look back with intellectual curiosity at the different ways our various neuroses manifest under this sort of pressure, but right now we're all at the emotional level of your average underslept five-year-old and it's kind of awful.

I'm just so glad that no matter how defensive or agitated or scared or sullen or cranky we get, we don't get mean. We're never cruel. We gripe but don't snipe. Some days that's all that saves us.

Today X and I got into a stupid verbal spiral and couldn't pull ourselves out of it, and then J knocked to ask about dinner plans, and we were so happy to be interrupted! We were utterly hating the conversation we were having and didn't want to be having it and couldn't figure out how to stop, and being jarred out of it was a huge relief. It was actually very heartening how glad we were to pull him into the room and talk about dinner and hug one another and let all the rest of it go. We were so eager to stop making one another unhappy. Everything was better after that. Not 100% better, but better.

The stress is making me slightly dizzy all the time. It's not vertigo. I know it's not because whenever I go over to the new place I magically feel better. I'm just lightheaded. But of course I keep checking to see whether it's vertigo.

Tonight I burst into tears and sobbed on X's shoulder, wailing, "I'm homesick! I want to go home!" But by this time next week I will be home, or at least in a place that we can make into a home instead of a place that we're dismantling. And then I hope we will stay there for many many many MANY years. Ideally without any ants.

You're welcome to comment on LJ, but I'd rather you leave a comment on the Dreamwidth version of this entry. The current comment count is comment count unavailable.

AwesomeCon Wrap-up

And AwesomeCon has come to an end.

Saturday’s crowd was significantly larger than Friday evenings, but then again, most of the media guests were there. There were a ton of cosplayers and way too many cute kids in their costumes. Sunday’s crowd was much smaller, which didn’t surprise me considering it was Easter, but unfortunately, sales on Sunday weren’t quite up to the first two days. But, there were good conversations with the fans and even ran into another UCM alumnus at the show (small world and all).

Several con goers walked away with books of mine over the two days. It was odd, but for a comic convention, my anthologies sold better than my comics . . . go figure. Sold almost all of my current stock of the Corps of Engineers anthology. I”m down to my last two Hulk anthologies – I think they’re probably the last two in the wild. And, I sold several Chronicles of the Sea Dragon, Troubleshooters, and a Shazal miniature.

One of the really fun things was getting to see my co-plotter on Chronicles of the Sea Dragon, April MacDee, get to sign her first comic for one of the fans. I remember that, (OK, vaguely I admit),

but, it was still fun to watch.

I was also able to represent Writer Beware a few times. Talked to some new writers about where to get advice, discussed a publisher with another writer and will be doing more research on it with the rest of team, and best of all, I visited with the D.C. Public Library staff about possibly doing a Writer Beware workshop at the library some day this fall. I noted we tend to speak mainly to SF/F writers because those are the conventions we normally attend. However, people who write romance, historical fiction, literary fiction, mysteries, etc. face the same challenges as anyone else.

So, it was a fun weekend, but now back to the grind.

Originally published at Richard C. White. Please leave any comments there.